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Irish government in jeopardy over whistle-blower scandal

The Irish Government is today facing a crisis that could cause its collapse and lead the country into a pre-Christmas general election after a vote of no confidence was submitted by two of the opposition parties today against a government department minister.

The submission was a no confidence motion in Tánaiste (deputy head of government) Frances Fitzgerald who, as the Minister for Justice, in May 2015 received an e-mail which set out the legal strategy that was initially about to be pursued against a Sgt McCabe at a state enquiry (O’Higgins Commission) into the treatment of public office whistle-blowers. Sergeant Maurice McCabe has been at the centre of a long running controversy over whistle-blower allegations in the Irish police force (An Garda Síochána) after he lifted the lid on large scale driving penalty points controversy. Following the reveal, he allegedly became the target of a number of attempts to discredit his reputation and this controversy has subsequently resulted in a full blown state enquiry of the actions of various parties against Sgt McCabe.

Frances Fitzgerald

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald

The opposition has said that the Tánaiste should have acted on it when the e-mail was initially sent to her. However, the government claims that the Tánaiste was correct in not taking any action.

Legal versus moral

Ms Fitzgerald claimed that she did not remember reading the e-mail and there is also controversy regarding who else was made aware of it, and how it was handled by the Irish Department of Justice.

During a search of records in response to a parliamentary question from Irish Labour TD Alan Kelly, the department confirmed this week that the e-mail was discovered on 9th November. When she was reminded of the e-mail on November 16th, Ms Fitzgerald said that the e-mail advised her she had no function in regard to the Garda’s legal strategy at the commission.

But the opposition in the form of Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil claim that the e-mail is clear evidence of a conspiracy by the Minister and the Garda to discredit McCabe.

No backing down

On Thursday of this week Sinn Féin tabled a vote of no confidence in Fitzgerald with Fianna Fáil following suit on Friday.

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he will not be seeking the resignation of the Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald and has called on all sides to step back for the possibility of dissolving the current government.

Speaking on state television on Friday evening, Mr Varadkar said he will not be rushed over the weekend to “dissolve the Dáil” (Irish Parliament) and that if the country were to go to the polls, “it would be better to have it done before Christmas”.

Despite the claims from all sides that nobody wants an election, it now seems that unless Ms Fitzgerald is either dismissed or resigns, the motion will be carried through on Tuesday next week, and the current government will fall, resulting in an election, possibly in late December. It is still hoped that either Ms Fitzgerald will take one for the team and resign, or that some kind of an agreement will be made between the government and Fianna Fáil which will allow the current arrangement of  “confidence and supply” to a minority government to stay in place.

Strong EU position in doubt

With the EU Brexit summit in less than three weeks, it is hoped that the Irish government will not be heading to Brussels having lost some of its valuable momentum and support by showing stability and harmony across the Irish political sphere.

Given the atrocious response by various UK media against the Irish government’s stance over Brexit, there is no doubt that the current crisis will be ammunition for the UK negotiation team who will try to show that there is as much disunity and confusion on the EU side as there is on the UK side. A recent leaked EU report claimed that there was a considerable amount of divisions and uncertainty in the UK camp over what position the UK wants to adopt in the negotiations. And with signs of a compromise over possible Customs Union membership for Northern Ireland appearing over the last few days, the opportunity for Ireland to capitalise could be under threat if the country must deal with the distraction of a general election.

While it seems to be a situation where Ms Fitzgerald is being the victim of a kangaroo court style politics, there is be a bigger issue at stake here, and her resignation may need to happen for the greater good.

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